The Secret Garden | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Secret Garden 

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The Secret Garden, Circle Theatre. It's good timing to produce this redemptive tale as we're eagerly awaiting spring: it depicts the seemingly endless winter that engulfs Archibald Craven, who's lost his wife and may soon lose his crippled son, Colin. Then his plucky niece arrives in Yorkshire: Mary Lennox, whose parents succumbed to cholera in India. The dead as well as the living--Dickon, a nature-savvy peasant lad, and a ready robin--help Mary find her aunt's secret garden, and a springlike miracle provides the happy ending.

Doggedly faithful to the sentiment and mysticism of Frances Hodgson Burnett's Edwardian novel, this musical by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon exploits every emotional opportunity, notably in dead Lily Craven's upbeat anthem "Come to My Garden." Director Robert Knuth coaxes well-crafted, fairly restrained performances from his cast and makes the most of his own versatile, ingenious set: given the garden's set pieces, its sudden blooming is quite a feat.

Fourth-grader Amy Sparrow as Mary evolves from pouty brattiness to genuine gratitude with the help of Dickon (the gangly Jacob Hoffman, who resembles a young Tommy Tune) and Colin (played with a Fauntleroy air by David Ruby). Sarah Swanson haunts memorably as Lily, and Marc Pera carries his grief well as her winter-ridden husband. Choreographer Kevin Bellie, undeterred by a small stage, offers magnificently exuberant folk dances.

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